Monday, February 9, 2015

Loewe - Two Ballads

Carl Loewe composed in most of the genres of his day, but he is most remembered for his over 400 songs for voice and piano. He was called the Schubert of North Germany, and exerted a great influence on German lieder composers in the 19th century.  Loewe was also a fine pianist as well as baritone, conductor and composer, and his songs are known for the imaginative effects in the  accompaniments.  His ballads were very popular in the 19th century, especially in Germany where they remain in the lied repertoire.  With the coming of modern scholarship and recordings, Loewe's music is being heard more often outside Germany.

The text for the ballad Edward Opus 1, No. 1 originated in the British Isles. There are many versions of this poem in England, Scotland, and Ireland and there are also very similar ballads in Northern Europe.  The poem was many centuries old before it was put on paper in 1765.  The German poet Johann Gottfried Herder translated the poem to German, the version Loewe used in his setting of the poem.

The poem is a dialogue between Edward and his Mother. After his Mother presses him where the blood on his sword came from, Edward confesses that he has killed his father. After the Mother continues to ask questions, this time about what will happen to his wife, children, towers and house, his Mother asks what will he do for his Mother dear. Edward replies she will recieve the curse of hell, and it is then that he accuses his Mother of counseling him to murder his father. 

Edward
"Why does your sword drip with blood,
Edward, Edward?
Why does your sword drip with blood
And why are you so sad, O?"

"O, I have killed my hawk so good,
Mother, Mother;
O, I have killed my hawk so good,
And I have no more, O!"

"Your hawk's blood was never so red,
Edward, Edward!
Your hawk's blood was never so red,
My dear son, I tell you, O!"

"O, I have killed my red-roan steed,
Mother, Mother;
O, I have killed my red-roan steed,
That was once so fair and free, O!"

"Your steed was old, and you have more,
Edward, Edward!
Your steed was old, and you have more,
Something else troubles you, O!"

"O, I have slain my father dear,
Mother, Mother;
O, I have slain my father dear,
Alas and woe is me, O!"

"And what penance will you do for that,
Edward, Edward?
And what penance will you do for that,
My dear son, now tell me, O!"

"I'll set my feet in yonder boat,
Mother, Mother;
I'll set my feet in yonder boat,
And I'll go over the sea, O."

"And what will you do with your towers and house,
Edward, Edward?
And what will you do with your towers and house
That were so fair to see, O?"

"I'll let them stand till they fall down,
Mother, Mother;
I'll let them stand till they fall down,
For here will I never be, O."

"And what will you leave to your children and wife,
Edward, Edward?
And what will you leave to your children and wife,
When you go over the sea, O?"

"The world has room, let them beg through life,
Mother, Mother;
The world has room, let them beg through life,
For never more will I see them, O."

"And what will you leave to your mother dear,
Edward, Edward?
And what will you leave to your mother dear,
My dear son, now tell me, O!"

"The curse of hell from me shall ye bear,
Mother, Mother;
The curse of hell from me shall ye bear,
For the counsel you gave to me, O!"

The link below is of the German bass Kurt Moll singing the ballad with an orchestral accompaniment:

Moll's interpretation is classic, and his deep bass voice suits the music quite well. At the other end of the spectrum is the 1932 version done by Lawrence Tibbett. This version uses the original piano accompaniment. Tibbett also sings in the dialect that the poem was written in when published in 1765.  In comparison to Moll's more contemporary interpretation, Tibbett's is much more free musically in tempo and is over the top dramatically, some might even say to the point of going too far. But his version is certainly not boring:


Totendanz, Opus 44, No. 3 is set to parts of a poem by Johann Goethe who wrote the poem in 1813.  The poem is not only in the tradition of the dance of death that runs through European culture for centuries (an aftermath of the changes in society created by the Black Death ), but Goethe infuses it with some black humor as a night watchman at first just watches the skeletons shed their shrouds and dance. But a voice whispers in his ear to take one of the shrouds, which he does. As the skeletons end their dance, they all grab their shrouds and go back to their graves except for the one that had his shroud taken by the watchman.  The skeleton climbs up the tower wall, and as it corners the watchman, bells toll out and save the watchman as the skeleton shatters into pieces.

Totendanz
At dead of night the watchman on the tower
looks down on the row of graves.
The moon has made everything bright,
the churchyard is as if in daylight.

One grave stirs, then another;
out they come, here a woman, 
there a man, in white
trailing winding sheets.

Now intent on pleasure, they stretch
their bones in around dance.
Poor and young, old and rich,
their trains hinder their dance.

Since they have no need of shame,
they all shake them off and the 
shrouds lie scattered 
over the burial mounds.

Now shanks stir and legs totter,
there are crazy antics and 
now and then clicks and clacks
as if castanets were beating time. 

To the watchman it seems ludicrous,
and the artful Tempter whispers in his ear,
"Go out and seize one of the shrouds!" No sooner said
than done, and he retreats behind hallowed doors.

The moon shines brightly on the hideous dance,
but at last  they disperse, and  one by one
slip back into their clothes and scurry
back under the turf.

Finally only one is left, tripping and stumbling,
fumbling and groping at the graves,
but none of hiss fellows has wronged him.
He smells the grave cloth in the air. 

He rattles the tower gate, but is repulsed,
fortunatley for the watchman,
by holy ornaments
shining with metal crosses.

But he has to have his shroud and will not rest,
nor is there time for lengthy reflection.
The creature grasps the Gothic decorations
and clambers from coping to coping.

Poor watchman, he's done for now!
Up it climbs from turret to turret like a long legged spider.
The watchman blenches and trembles, gladly
would he give the shroud back! Now -can anything save the watchman!

A corner of the shroud catches on an iron spike,
already the moon is clouded over, the light fades,
the bell thunders out a mighty stroke of ONE!...
And the skeleton is dashed to pieces below.

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